By Carl Golden
Alice Roosevelt Longworth, the free-spirited tart tongued daughter of Teddy, once described her president father as someone who “wanted to be the corpse at every funeral, the bride at every wedding and the infant at every christening.”
One hundred twelve years after Teddy left the White House, his daughter’s characterization falls on ex-president Donald Trump like one of his finely tailored navy blue suits.
From rallies to candidate endorsements to interviews to commenting on whatever topic strikes his momentary fancy, Trump has filled the roles Alice ascribed to her father. In the process, he’s blocking out the media sun and overshadowing any Republican mulling a run for the 2024 presidential nomination.
For good or ill, Trump in retirement is the same force of nature he was as president. Republican leaders tread lightly around him, conscious of polls that show him by far the first choice of self-identified Republicans for the nomination, even as they worry he’s alienated so many voting blocs that his top of the ticket presence would drag down-ballot candidates to defeat.
His critics in the party speak on condition of anonymity, fearful of offending him and subjecting themselves to one of his tirades while those who choose to comment on the record risk backlash and banishment.
His hold on the party base is extraordinary, driven in part by a conviction he was cheated of re-election in 2020, despite a lack of any evidence to validate the claim of an outcome rigged by sinister outside forces.
His “Stop the Steal” rallies attract thousands and his false claims of electoral theft draw thunderous applause and chants of agreement from the audience.
As the Biden administration continues to slide deeper into negative public standing and seems powerless to halt or reverse it, Trump draws increasing strength from a disappointed nation experiencing what many observers label “buyer’s remorse,” implying that replacing Trump with Biden was a mistake.
In less than 10 months, the Biden administration has lost the confidence of the American people – including independents – falling well below 50 percent in nearly every area of concern: the economy, inflation, immigration, taxes, and foreign policy, the last driven mostly by the debacle of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Restive Democrats fret aloud the party will pay a price in the 2022 Congressional midterms, losing their thin House majority and breaking the 50-50 Senate stalemate in favor of Republicans.
Biden’s been unable to reconcile the warring factions in his own party in Congress, endangering his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package and undermining his leadership and negotiating skills, qualities he campaigned on as an antidote to the chaos and uproar of his predecessor.
His public appearances are often painful to watch as he stumbles through prepared remarks, misidentifies individuals and forgets names, places and events, leading to awkward and whispered discussions of a cognitive decline.
He’s offended the White House press corps by limiting his interactions with reporters as part of a staff strategy to guard against rambling responses or erroneous references to Administration actions.
The instances of his press staff forced to correct, clarify or walk back presidential musings have grown more frequent. Failure to deliver a coherent message on issues like the immigration crisis at the southern border, how the infrastructure package will be financed and decisions on the Afghanistan military presence have contributed to portrayals of an Administration in disarray.
Trump has gleefully seized on the administration’s missteps and erosion of public confidence and parlayed it into a massive media presence, using it as he’s done for his entire private and public sector career to dominate the debate.
The media, while certainly no supporter of the ex-president, at the same time can’t seem to get enough of him. They can’t boycott him or refuse to cover his appearances, following his narrative and giving him a marquee presence while shunting his potential party opponents off to stage right.
He no longer simply teases the possibility of seeking the nomination in 2024. There’s no element of coyness in his confident predictions that he’d scare off any potential challengers while mopping the floor with those who dare enter the arena to face him.
He’ll continue to play Alice Roosevelt’s corpse, bride and infant and – nominee or not – will use them all to exert outsized and potentially decisive influence on the party.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at [email protected]